Monthly Archives: October 2011

Whoever heard of a Jewish Cowboy?

I just returned from a trip to Argentina – home to hundreds of thousands of Jewish people, including some real Jewish cowboys! These kosher cowboys are called in Spanish “Gauchos Judios”- literally “Jewish cowboys.”

Many people mistakenly think that the Jewish population in Argentina grew as a result of an influx of refugees from the Holocaust. Actually, the Jewish immigration to Argentina began during the same time that there was massive immigration from Eastern Europe to the United States and Canada. Between the late 1880s and World War I, almost two million Jewish people traveled to what was known as “the Golden land”– the United States of America – in order to get as far away from Eastern European anti-Semitism as they possibly could.

The great Jewish leader Baron Maurice de Hirsch knew that the days of the Jewish people in the area known as the Pale of Settlement (including parts of Russia, Ukraine and Romania) were numbered because of the increase of vicious pogroms against the Jews living in that area. Baron Maurice de Hirsch purchased land in the northern part of Argentina (the Pampas) to create a safe haven for the Jewish people. Somehow he convinced the Argentine government that receiving the Jewish people would be good for the country – because they would farm the land, raise animals and add to the economy.

Of course, the Jewish people of Eastern Europe were for the most part tradesmen, rabbis, scholars and professionals – not farmers! But Baron Maurice de Hirsch knew that the only way to get the Jewish people into Argentina and away from the pogroms of Eastern Europe was through farming the land.

This was the genesis of the Jewish immigration to Argentina and the origin of the “Gauchos Judios.” However, as hard as the Jewish people tried, it was soon apparent that only a small remnant of immigrants from Eastern Europe would be able to adapt to this new lifestyle. Many Jewish immigrants to Argentina began trading and opening stores in the northern provinces of the country, and then eventually drifting towards the great city of Buenos Aires.

The Jewish people of Argentina – now more than 300,000 – have contributed greatly to the country’s growth. The second generation of Jewish Argentines built upon the foundation laid by their parents and became business owners, professionals, and politicians, establishing a vibrant Jewish life and culture throughout the country, centered in Buenos Aires.

Dozens of synagogues can be found throughout Argentina today. I visited one during the celebration of Sukkot while in Buenos Aires and it was filled with families; young and old, Ashkenazi and Sephardic!

Today, a dynamic Jewish culture is growing in Argentina – expressed through a variety of social and football clubs as well as community centers. There are also some very important rabbinical training institutions in Buenos Aires that continues to train rabbis for all of Latin America; they have even “exported” some of their best rabbinical students to serve in a number of significant synagogues in New York City.

There has always been a close tie between Argentina and Israel. Over the years, many Jewish people left Argentina because of continued anti-Semitism and immigrated to Israel. Tens of thousands of Argentine Jews now live in Israel.

Argentina also became home to many Nazis who fled Germany and other parts of Europe. There have always been strong German, Spanish and Italian communities in Argentina, and many of these Western European immigrants were sympathetic to the Nazis. By the 1950s there was a strong Jewish community as well as a strong ex-Nazi or Nazi-sympathizing community in Argentina.

By the time of my first trip to Argentina in the mid-1970s, one could easily find Spanish versions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on newsstands in Argentina. A number of the Jewish residents of Argentina were politically on the left and became part of the opposition to the military government in those years. There was also a disproportionate number of Jewish people who became “disappearing ones” and lost their lives as a result of their protest against what was viewed as a Fascist government.

There have also been strong communities of Jewish people in Argentina who believe in Jesus the Messiah. Some come from Europe during the early waves of immigration, but many came to Argentina during and after the Holocaust. One group of these Messianic Jews were from Vienna and came to Argentina via Sweden, as the Swedish Lutheran Church helped many Jewish people escape Nazi terror through their Outreach Center in Vienna.

These Messianic Jews traveled from Vienna to Stockholm, but because Sweden was unwilling to allow the Jewish people to remain in their country, many of the Jewish people emigrated to Argentina – still one of the only countries that would allow them to enter.

One of those who escaped Vienna and came to Argentina was Emmanuel Lichtenstein, who was serving as a missionary to the Jewish people with Chosen People Ministries in Vienna, in a partnership with the Swedish Lutheran church.

The work of Emmanuel Lichtenstein grew in Argentina and many Bible studies were established as well as a branch of the Messianic Jewish Alliance (called the Hebrew Christian Alliance at that time). The Bible studies and worship services were mostly conducted in Yiddish, especially since the Messianic Jews in Argentina were mostly Ashkenazi Jews.

The work of Chosen People Ministries in Argentina continues to this day. Argentina’s Jewish community remains vibrant, and after spending a week in Buenos Aires, I can tell you that my love of and burden for the Jewish people of this great country has only increased.

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head in beautiful Buenos Aires. I saw a number of Swastikas painted on the walls in Jewish areas of the city. The Jewish people continue to associate anti-Semitism with both Nazism and Christianity. It is a real shame – but it is understandable in light of all that has transpired over the last century!

I met many Jewish believers in Argentina during this last trip, and every single one of them came to faith through the loving testimony of a Gentile believer who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to share the Good News with them.

Just imagine a new ministry… Jewish Cowboys for Messiah!

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Argentina, Messianic Jewish

Another Yom Kippur Has Passed


Years ago a Chassidic Rabbi taught me the real meaning of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

I was handing out pamphlets about Yeshua the Messiah at a New Jersey college when all of a sudden, the campus Chassidic Rabbi ran towards me and began handing out his own literature.  Not only that!  He stopped some of the students who had received a copy of my pamphlet, asked them if they were Jewish and then told them they should not read, what was obviously in his opinion – spiritual contraband.  He virtually took it out of their hands and gave them a copy of his leaflet, telling them about the importance of living a more fulfilled Jewish life; keeping Torah, kosher, going to Synagogue and loving G-d in a more traditional Jewish way.  He represented a group called Chabad, which now has close to 6,000 “missionaries” traversing the globe calling Jewish people – especially on campuses – to return to their spiritual roots and embrace a more faithful Judaism.

At first I was a bit concerned and felt he was unfair in doing what he did and I almost said to him – “go get your own crowd!”  But, in the distance I noticed that students were watching and seemed to be wondering why the Rabbi was helping the man (me), wearing a sweatshirt that read something like. Yeshua is the Messiah – hand out his literature.  I laughed and continued this unexpected few moments of “dueling pamphlets”.

It was just a few days after the Day of Atonement and thought I would take the opportunity to engage my self-proclaimed protagonist in meaningful conversation.  So I asked the Rabbi – whose name I knew – “Baruch, did you have a good High Holiday season”?  He looked at me and said, “of course”.  I then asked if I could ask him a bit of a personal question and he responded with a quick “sure”. I asked Baruch, whose name means blessing, “do you know if you were blessed with the forgiveness of your sins on Yom Kippur”?  He smiled at me, like a father whose young and precocious son had asked a naïve, but potentially reasonable question.  He answered, “you believers in Jesus think it is so easy to be forgiven…you just say a little prayer and bingo…you are forgiven!”  I returned the good-natured smile and said, “Baruch, I really want to know…you spent all day fasting, 10 days intensely repenting and now the Books of Life and Death are closed (according to Jewish tradition) and I am wondering…did you make it into the Book of Life”?  I then in typical New York, Brooklyn fashion – since I knew he had lived in Brooklyn – said – “answer the question, Yes or No.”

He used a fatherly tone with me and said, “How can someone ever know they were forgiven?  You think you get a certificate or something like that?  It is a matter of faith and believing you did the right thing”.   I pressed him one more time and said, “so, you do not know for sure that your sins are forgiven?”  This time he became a bit exasperated with me (I don’t blame him) and using my Hebrew name, said, “and even if I was forgiven, I would walk out of the Synagogue and sin again and have to repeat the whole process the following year”…He continued, “ the point is this…a faithful Jew must keep repenting all the time in order to forgiven of sin…it is a constant process”.

I smiled and said “thank you”.  He asked “why the thank you?” I then said to him that his answer reminded me of why I am so grateful for what Yeshsua the Messiah did for me and for him…that He died once for all, for all sins; for all time and for all people…and that though I do need to repent and live for Him that my eternal future rested in His mighty hands and not my own. He smiled at me and we wished one another a “Chag Sameach” – Happy Festival as we still had one additional Leviticus festival (and the one which was the most fun!), coming up – Tabernacles – Sukkot.

The Rabbi helped me appreciate the words of our Messiah who said, “It is finished”!  It is a source of great personal joy to know that His work of redemption is completed and as the author of the Book of Hebrew writes,

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:14)

Hebrews 8-10 describe His once for all atonement for our sins, but read verses 1-16 of chapter 10 and you will be able to glean the heart of what He did for us through His sacrificial death.

I went to a wonderful Messianic congregation on Yom Kippur day and the Messianic Rabbis’ sermon encouraged us to go beyond repentance – to reconciliation and that reconciliation with God (and with other people) can only come through the death and resurrection of our promised Messiah – Yeshua.  I could not agree more and am grateful for both Rabbis as I reflect upon Yom Kippur 5772.

One last thought.  I am thankful for the forgiveness of sin and gift of eternal life given to all who believe in Yeshua the Messiah, but the encounter with the Chabad Rabbi also taught me another important lesson.  That one’s love for God should never lead to silence!  In fact it should produce the opposite – a joy that compels us to speak to total strangers, to risk our personal dignity and safety and to even respectfully resist those whose goal it is to turn people towards a spiritual path other than the One way we know to be true.  I have a found a new, New Years resolution, thanks to some continued reflection on an event that happened many years ago – I pray that 5772 will be a year of new opportunities to tell others about my love for God and for His Son, and that He will give me the strength to take and even make these opportunities.

And you?

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Rosh Hashanah in the Lingering Shadow of 9/11

Happy Rosh Hashanah, and may your name be inscribed in the Book of Life!

We had wonderful Rosh Hashanah services at our Messianic congregation in Manhattan, Sha’ar Adonai, where I had the privilege of preaching on Erev Rosh Hashanah. I decided to preach on Psalm 23, which was the same text I preached on ten years ago when we observed Rosh Hashanah a few days after 9/11. At that time, many people were posting the twenty-third Psalm throughout New York City, hanging it on construction sites, hospitals, and more. Both believers and non-believers knew exactly what passage to read in order to find comfort and hope from God during a very trying moment.

Those days after the attack on the World Trade Center, and that first Rosh Hashanah service afterwards, were unforgettable. Months before the holiday, we had rented a space right next to the Empire State building for services. We decided not to change the location, even though many of us thought that the Empire State building could be the next target of the terrorists. Subways and buses were running poorly and the traffic was horrible as almost every other vehicle was stopped at a bridge or tunnel and searched for explosives. These were difficult days for the traumatized citizens of New York City.

In fact, we almost canceled the service, but decided against it. I remember telling one of our staff, “I will only cancel our High Holiday services when the Lord changes the Jewish calendar.”

We had a great service that night, and I was able to remind people that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear evil because the Lord is with us (Psalm 23:4), and when He is with us, we have nothing to fear. That post-9/11 Rosh Hashanah service was the first service that Steve and Carol Fenchel attended in New York City prior to their coming here to plant a Messianic congregation. And here we are ten years later, still loving the Lord and worshipping Him during Rosh Hashanah – having passed through the “dark valley” of terrorism, yet still able to praise God. And ten years later we are now able to look back and see that our faithful Shepherd was guiding and leading us to better and greener pastures. We are safe, though surrounded by danger, because we are His sheep and He has promised to be with us “until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

This commemoration of Rosh Hashanah 9/11 was supremely meaningful to me and for those who went through the trauma ten years ago. I met one Jewish couple who attended our service ten years ago – it was their first time at a Messianic Rosh Hashanah service as followers of Yeshua (Jesus). I asked when they had come to faith and they replied, “A few days ago.”

I was a bit surprised and asked them to tell me their story. They had heard the message of Jesus from some Gentile Christian friends but were not convinced. They had also watched Jonathan Cahn’s TV show (Jonathan is a Jewish believer in Yeshua and pastor of Beth Israel congregation in New Jersey), but they were still not convinced. However, on September 11, their daughter was in one of the Twin Towers, and when they saw what had happened they prayed and asked Yeshua to save their daughter. They promised Him that if He did, they would both become believers in Him. After God did save their daughter, they became believers and found their way to our service just a few days later.

The same Lord who did such wonders during and immediately after September 11 is the Shepherd who continues to seek His sheep. After our service the other night, I was approached by an older couple, which I noticed had been smiling throughout the very lively and joy-filled service. I asked them how they liked the service and they said, “We loved it! This was unlike any Rosh Hashanah service I have ever attended!”

I asked the wife whether that was good or bad, and she exclaimed, “Good!” She and her husband had been brought to the service by a friend who is Jewish and believes in Yeshua. We compared stories about growing up in Brooklyn and Queens, and then talked a bit about the deeper spiritual issues of the High Holidays. It was a great conversation, but I don’t think I will forget the smile on this dear woman’s face when she went on to ask, “Is this the way your services usually go?”

I told her, “Yes – we are a happy bunch!”

As a Messianic Jew, I love to observe the Jewish holidays, but we must remember that the point of Rosh Hashanah in the Jewish community is that it serves as the “gateway” to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It is the day Jewish people begin a season of repentance and prayer that will hopefully lead to salvation by the close of Yom Kippur.

Yet as believers in Yeshua, we have forgiveness already! We also know that repentance alone does not save a man or a woman from the consequences of sin – we are  saved through the blood of the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah!

And this is why we have such joyful services! It’s not because we do not think we need to regularly repent, turning from our sins every day and drawing closer to God. Rather, we rejoice because we know that our sins are forgiven and we have been eternally bonded to God through the sacrifice of His Son, never to be undone – not even by the sins we commit each day as we do our best to walk with Him.

He is our great Shepherd. He leads us, guides us, and provides for all of our needs. And most importantly, He walks with us. He is our ever-present Companion and Joy, and this is why we view Rosh Hashanah as a celebration and a time to rejoice in thanksgiving to God for His goodness.

Again, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! I pray that you will have a spiritually fruitful week as you draw near to God and He draws close to you.

Mitch

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized